Still fail to discuss Scahill bombshell
Official source idiocy reigns...
By Ernest A. Canning on 8/20/2009, 11:23am PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

On Aug. 20, 2009 The New York Times published a front-page article:

[Emphasis added]The Central Intelligence Agency in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials.

A substantially similar article appeared in the Washington Post and in the Los Angeles Times.

The New York Times article provided limited background information on Blackwater aka Xe, referencing what amounted to a massacre of 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians gunned down by Blackwater mercenaries in Nisoor Square as simply an instance in which Blackwater had been "accused of using excessive force."

In "Blackwater = Murder, Inc." I covered the explosive allegations made in sworn statements by two former Blackwater employees --- murder, weapons smuggling, corruption, and the use of child prostitutes. I argued:

The failure of the bulk of the corporate press to responsibly cover this explosive story is manifestly irresponsible. The ramifications of permitting a President to create a private, unaccountable army of mercenaries --- one which was permitted to have a heavily armed presence inside a U.S. city, a presence that took precedence over saving the lives of Katrina victims --- are truly frightening.

Now, that same corporate press learned from "official sources" that Blackwater is linked to former Vice President Richard B Cheney's "assassination wing." It repeats, without challenge, the official source contention that the only ones targeted by the "assassination wing" were senior al Qaeda officials --- this despite Jeremy Scahill's and Keith Olbermann's revelation that John Doe 2, reportedly a former member of Blackwater's management, alleged:

Mr. Prince views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.

These articles reveal as much about the sorry state of mainstream media journalism as they do about Blackwater...

In "Blackwater = Murder, Inc.?" I referenced Bill Moyer's lament for Jim Lehrer’s belief that “unless an official says something is so, it isn’t news.":

Why were journalists not discussing the occupation of Iraq? Because, says Lehrer, "the word ‘occupation’…was never mentioned in the run-up to the war." Washington talked about the invasion as "'a war of liberation,' not a war of occupation. So as a consequence, those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation."

I suggested that the view that "unless an official says something is so, it isn't news" is part of a corporate media-engendered idiocy. I quoted I.F. Stone, "Governments lie." As revealed by Norman Solomon in War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, our government expends a good deal of time, effort and our tax dollars to deceive us. We deal with a serial liar.

Yet, as revealed by the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times articles, no effort was made by these incurious stenographers to seek any source outside the government other than Blackwater which did not return their calls. They just received and reported the "official line" that the only target of the "assassination wing" was senior al Qaeda leaders --- this despite the fact that they surely knew, given Scahill and Olbermann's coverage on MSNBC, that a former Blackwater employee contended that Blackwater's founder saw his mission as a Christian Jihad intended to eliminate "Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe." (The Washington Post/Los Angeles Times pieces unveil another problem with 21st Century corporate journalism --- the reduction of the number of newsroom employees in the name of maximum corporate profits. Both pieces were written by the same Washington Post staff writer.)

Their efforts call to mind Stephen Colbert's blistering critique presented at the May 1, 2006 House Correspondent’s dinner:

Here’s how it works. The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people in the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!

Bill Moyers' assessment in Moyers on America seems apropos:

All too often our programs allow government to define the news in terms preferred by the political elites, assuring that the official view of reality is not seriously challenged by independent reporting and analysis.

As I previously noted, quoting Justice Hugo Black's opinion from the Pentagon Papers case, the press should serve the governed, not the governors. We, the American people, deserve better than we are getting from the corporate media.

UPDATE 08/20/09: Appearing today on Democracy Now, Jeremy Scahill said that he'd been aware of this issue for several weeks and had been working on it. He anticipated that "a lot more is going to come out on this," adding that the CIA/Blackwater ties run much longer and deeper than what is revealed by The New York Times/Washington Post articles.

Scahill also observed that Cofer Black, a 28 year CIA veteran was managing a CIA "assassination 2002, when Blackwater first started working for the CIA."

In The Dark Side, Jane Mayer reports that , during a meeting with the CIA’s British counterparts that George Tenet said that a Cofer Black subordinate submitted a “classified cable” that urged “the CIA’s paramilitary operatives…to not just kill bin Laden, but also to dismember him. Then they were directed to send a few choice body parts back to Langley.”

Mayer goes on to relate comments made by “a former to British intelligence officer who had overseen the British campaign to crush the IRA.”

“You need to learn from our history,” the Englishman warned. He then recounted how former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had become enraged and panicked following the IRA’s bombing of the Conservative Party’s conference…in 1984….”We decided to turn the terrorists tactics back on them,’ he noted. “For a time, it worked…But watch out….It’s dangerous. It makes you the bad guys. And when it gets to court --- and in your society, just like ours, it will --- everyone of these guys will get off.”

I'm reminded of the words from the early 60s Peter, Paul & Mary folk song, "When will they ever learn?"

UPDATE 08/21/09: Today, The New York Times reported:

From a secret division at its North Carolina headquarters, the company formerly known as Blackwater has assumed a role in Washington’s most important counterterrorism program: the use of remotely piloted drones to kill Al Qaeda’s leaders, according to government officials and current and former employees.

Exception to "official source" journalism? Not really. The report mentions unidentified "current and former employees" but only in the context of a story already confirmed by "government officials." America's "paper of record" still fails to so much as reference the Scahill bombshell.

The Los Angeles Times reported the same story, confirming Scahill's 08/20/2009 account on Democracy Now of a CIA/Blackwater financial relationship emerging in 2002 and pointing to the "revolving door" between CIA government service and the more lucrative confines of Blackwater executive suites "as a series of CIA executives took senior roles at the company."

Among them were J. Cofer Black, former head of the CIA's counter-terrorism center; Robert Richer, former No. 2 for operations; Alvin B. "Buzzy" Krongard, former executive director; and Enrique "Ric" Prado, military chief of the counter-terrorism.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post did a follow-up to its Aug. 20 piece, "Blackwater Disclosure Adds to CIA Worries: News of 'Targeted Killing' Program Precedes Interrogation Report, Possible Probe."

Democratic House and Senate lawmakers and staff members have already described as inappropriate the Bush administration's decision to hand management and training responsibility for the CIA's "targeted killing" efforts to Blackwater USA, and they have reiterated their intent to press for speedier and more complete disclosure by the agency of such activities in the future. CIA Director Leon E. Panetta terminated the program in June, shortly before telling Congress about its existence.

This, too, entails "official source" journalism as the corporate media has long treated Congress as an "official source," limiting the scope of discourse to the range of disputes between elected officials from the two Parties.

All three articles continue to accept the "official account" that the assassination program targeted only al Qaeda. None raise the disturbing question that arises from linking a private security contractor, which, according to at least one former Blackwater employee, was on a radical religious quest to eliminate "Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe."


Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

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